Here are five good reasons not to host the Olympic Games

Cloudy skies over London 2012. Image: Getty.

The prospect of hosting any mega-event – especially the Olympic Games – is cause for serious consideration. At local, national, and international levels, the discussion takes shape around two key questions: is it worth it? And if so, for whom?

The question of worth is not limited to cost – although that certainly remains a crucial feature. Rather, there exists a series of interrelated concerns about how mega-events can disrupt cities, and distract from long-term planning agendas. Bids to host the 2024 Olympics from both Boston and Hamburg were withdrawn for such reasons. Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro is demonstrating just how challenging preparations for the Olympic Games can be.

Here, we take a closer look at five key reasons why a city might be reluctant to host the Olympic Games.

1. Sheer cost

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Here are the estimated costs of the last four Olympics, and the projected cost of the upcoming games in Rio.

  • Sydney 2000: $4.7bn
  • Athens 2004: €9bn (nearly $10bn)
  • Beijing 2008: $42bn
  • London 2012: $11bn
  • Rio 2016: $15bn or more (over two decades following the event)

While the exact cost of any Olympics is difficult to pin down, and is often a point of contention, the last three games witnessed unparalleled public and private investment. Beijing, London and Rio have built longer term “legacy” planning into their budgets, to try to ensure that investment in hosting the games continues to pay off for years after the event.

Olympic legacies are hard to come by. Rio. Image: Dany13/Flickr.

Such legacy promises often promote infrastructure redevelopment, improved transportation systems, economic growth and job creation, projects of urban renewal and regeneration, improved physical activity participation and environmental sustainability. In Rio, planned infrastructure developments are set to continue through to 2030.

The financial undertaking for such bids – and the subsequent planning and implementation – is nothing short of enormous. Undoubtedly, the most significant cost relates to the (re)development of urban infrastructure. This leads us to our second deterrent.


2. Infrastructure challenges

Hosting a mega-event always involves urban renewal and regeneration. Yet developing the sporting stadia, accommodation and transportation networks to cope with increased numbers of tourists and athletes is anything but straightforward. Before refashioning the urban landscape, planners must know which sites are to be redeveloped, for whom, and to what end.

Clearly, catering to the demands of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is one priority – but arguably, it is the least significant. Rather, planners seek to capitalise on urban space by re-imagining the city as a recreational environment – a resource for tourism and consumerism. Retail, festival, sporting, leisure, hotel and heritage spaces are at the core of this vision.

While improvements to transportation may provide benefits to the populace, these redevelopments only offer hope for increased tourist dollars and a small number of low-paying jobs. One example is the Estádio Mario Filho (better known as the Maracanã) stadium in Rio, which underwent more than $500m in renovations ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Once cast in the populist light of the 1950s to communicate ideas of democracy, it now aims to attract a different kind of person: the consumption-oriented international tourist.

One of the central challenges of hosting any mega-event is what to do with the new infrastructure after the athletes and tourists have gone. Some host cities – such as Barcelona – have made good use of their stadia, but others are replete with white elephants. Montreal, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Vancouver have all had their share of post-olympics venue failures.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa offers a particularly stark warning: the stadia continue to rot from disuse. And Brazil appears destined to repeat the same mistakes, as the country struggles to find a purpose for its 2014 World Cup facilities. White elephants are highly-visible reminders that mega-events may not be worth the cost. But there’s an even more insidious side-effect which is often overlooked.

3. Human rights violations

Building new infrastructure in a city means destroying established urban areas. When that happens, local populations and communities are often dispersed and displaced.

To make way for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic infrastructure, an estimated 1.5m people were forcibly evicted from their homes with minimal compensation. The neighbourhoods were destroyed and residents removed to the outskirts of the city far from friends, family and places of work.

Not sports fans, we assume. Image: Krus Krug/Flickr/creative commons.

In Rio, the forced eviction process has taken on a militarised ethos, as Police Pacification Units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) try to control a number of the city’s favelas. Demolition, displacement and the razing of Unesco world heritage sites all feature in preparations for the games.

Repressive measures within China and Tibet at the 2008 games, LGBT rights issues surrounding the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and casualties on construction sites for the Qatar 2022 World Cup all point toward the persistent human rights issues which all too often accompany mega-events. Rather than representing unity and diversity, it seems as though the Olympic Games have started to signify oppression and exclusion.

4. Fear and security

In many host cities, publicly-funded yet privately-owned urban renewal projects have been leveraged to impose enhanced surveillance measures. For instance, London 2012 saw the rise of “defensible” architecture, which restricts the access and activities of those deemed “undesirable” – particularly skateboarders, protesters and the homeless – in newly-developed areas.

London’s Strand East Community – developed by Vastint Holding, IKEA’s holding company for residential development, ahead of the 2012 Olympics – is characteristic of the city’s propensity towards “enclave living”. This means a high security presence, which accepts those with the capital to invest, and rejects those who are deemed a threat to the safety and security of its residents. Such projects have caused urban spaces to be splintered. Those who lack the desire or means to engage with the consumer economy are stigmatised as “unwanted”.

London looking welcoming. Image: diamond geezer/Flickr/creative commons.

This process of securitisation has been fuelled by fear of attacks on popular sporting events, such as the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the targeting of Paris' Stade de France in November 2015. Planning committees have been burdened with the impossible task of preventing such attacks, by building security into the infrastructure, planning, organisation and practices associated with mega-events.

5. International prestige

Hosting a mega-event can create buzz, offer the chance for a positive re-brand or garner international prestige. But it can also draw unwanted attention and bad press. Host nations often obscure human rights violations, but will find it more difficult to manage the high-profile political and economic problems associated with international organisations like the IOC. For example, political scandals have recently tarnished the reputations of sporting bodies such as FIFA and the IAAF.

By being more aware of the potential pitfalls of hosting mega-events, residents are in a better position to engage with the bidding process – or to resist it, like those involved in the “No Boston Olympics” campaign. Instead of grasping at opportunities to host the Olympics, city authorities are getting better at considering how the games actually fit with their priorities – or if they do at all. This can only be a good thing.

Bryan C. Clift is a lecturer in the Department for Health, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Andrew Manley a lecturer in the Department for Health, at the University of Bath.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.